First (2nd and 3rd) Step to Get Your Food Costs Under Control

  1. Know you have a problem.
  2. I know it sounds cliché, but the first step is knowing you have a problem. Most people don’t suspect they overspend on food because they don’t go to expensive restaurants, but overspending on food is usually done at the grocery store and take-out level, not at the fancy restaurant level. As I wrote previously, for most people, food is the category they overspend most in each month.

    The reason people overspend is because they don’t think one meal at Chipotle or one salad from the Whole Foods buffet counts. It does and it usually accounts for most of the food overspending that any household does each month. That’s why you have to know you have a problem.

    The one way to know is to count. Take last month’s credit and debit card statement and add up all the “take-out and snacks.” Take-out and snacks are any items or meals where you did not prepare it at home and you did not have a waitress. Yes, that includes coffee, Fro Yo for the kids and the drive thru.

  3. Isolate your grocery costs from your take-out and dining out costs
    • Figure out what you should spend on groceries each month.
    • it’s about $200/person/month in an urban area. For a family of four that’s about $1000/month.
    • If you can do it at $850/month, so much the better, but be in that range.
    • Keep a list (paper or an app) of your grocery store spending. Yes, that includes detergent and toilet paper.
    • For a family of four in an urban area, take-out and snacks should not be more than about $200 per month.
    • If you buy your lunch out each day, it could be higher, but it’s not lunch that hurts. Snacks and dinners add up to a lot.
    • You should be buying, at most, one dinner per week of take out or from a place that does not have a waitress.

  4. Change your mindset!
  5. Generally, one person in the family does not HATE cooking. Find the person who hates it least and give that person all the support he/she needs. Let them shop for ingredients in peace (kids at home). Let them try new, interesting recipes, and most of all, appreciate his or her effort.

Make eating in, preparing food and cooking part of your life instead of fighting it and making it an afterthought if all else fails. Not only is it better for your waistline and nutrition, it is way better for your wallet.

If you want to hear more tips on food and money, come see Lori Atwood and Jessica Braider’s “30 minutes $30: How to Spend Less and Eat Better in Less Time. More details and sign up here!